- Indian cargo ship is the latest victim of the Somali pirates.
- Latest hijacking occurred off the coast of Somalia’s semi-autonomous region Puntland.
- Recent incidents may signal a revival of Somali piracy as all factors facilitating piracy ‘are still there’.
Somali pirates have hijacked another merchant ship, an Indian cargo vessel, in their second hit in the past month, after a five-year lull in piracy in the Gulf of Aden.
In mid-March, Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean, which was transporting oil from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
Even though they at first demanded an unspecified sum of money as ransom for the release of the tanker flying the flag of the Comoros Islands, which was owned by a firm based in United Arab Emirates, subsequently the pirates released both the ship and the 8 crew members from Sri Lanka without taking any money.
The release was achieved as a result of a gun fight between the pirates and a marine force from Somalia’s semi-autonomous region Puntland, which was followed by “intensive” negotiations between pirates, the marine force, and clan elders.
The Somali pirates agreed to let the oil tanker and its crew go without a ransom after they learned that a Somali businessman had hired the vessel to bring oil from Djibouti to the north to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu.
While the pirates tend to avoid conflicts with powerful Somali businessmen, local population which supplies the “foot soldiers” for piracy crews has been enraged by fishing permits for Somalia’s waters granted to foreigners by the government of the region of Puntland.
The hijacking in mid-March 2017 was the first time Somali pirates had taken control of an international merchant vessel since 2012, after they had made hundreds of millions from ransom money in the years prior.
The second case in less than a month of an international merchant ship hijacked by Somali pirates was announced on Monday by officials from Puntland, the BBC reported.
The hijacking of the Indian cargo vessel happened off the coast of Puntland, Northern Somalia.
“We understand Somali pirates hijacked a commercial Indian ship and [it is heading] towards Somalia shores,” Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, a former director of Puntland’s anti-piracy agency, told Reuters.
According to the privately-owned Daynile website, the Somali pirate attack happened about 50 km (30 miles) south of the port town of Hobyo.
According to India’s Directorate General of Shipping, the hijacking occurred on Saturday, April 1, The Times of India reported.
The cargo ship has 11 Indian crew members, and was on a voyage from Dubai to Yemen when it was hijacked.
“It is not a big ship but a dhow. It was hijacked yesterday and is now sailing towards the shore of Somalia,” Indian DGS official Malini Shankar said.
Shankar said the pirates were interested in the cargo on the ship and have not put forward a ransom demand so far, adding that the details of the cargo are not known yet.
The latest case of a piracy hijacking is yet to be confirmed by the European Union‘s Naval Force Somalia (EU NAVFOR), which has been carrying out an operation called “Atalanta” since 2008 in order to crack down on Somali piracy.
It is yet unknown whether the two recent cases of Somali pirate hijackings amount to a full-fledged rebirth of piracy in the Gulf of Adem, a major international trade route.
According to the BBC’s security correspondent Frank Gardner, “the factors that drove many Somali coastal fishermen to become pirates nearly a decade ago are still there.”
From Failed State to Piracy
Somali pirates began hijacking international merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean as early of 2005.
According to some estimates, since 2007 Somali pirates have made a total of USD 7 billion since 2007.
In January 2011, at their height, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 vessels.
The rise of Somali piracy led the UN, NATO, the EU, and China to intervene, successfully ending the hijackings of commercial vessels.
Since then, Somali piracy even made it to Hollywood, with the 2013 film Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks telling the story of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009.
Fishing boats have remained a target for Somali pirates. In 2016, they seized two fishing boats, a Yemeni and an Iranian one, which were fishing illegally in Somali waters. Eight Iranian sailors are still held as hostages by Somali pirates.
The rise of maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, which has the longest coastline of all countries on the African mainland, has been linked to the growth of illegal fishing by foreign trawlers and illegal dumping of toxic waste which have destroyed the livelihood of local fishermen. Many of them have thus become the foot soldiers in the army of pirates.
This has has been made possible by the chaos inside Somalia which has been in a state of civil war since a leftist regime collapsed there in 1991.
Often described as the definition of a failed state, Somalia has had a weak central government controlling only the area around the capital Mogadishu. Some of Somalia’s regions, most notably, Somaliland and Puntland in the north, remain largely autonomous.
Islamist militant group Al-Shabab still controls large territories in the southern third of Somalia.
The central government in Mogadishu has been trying to put the country back together with the recent election of a new President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka “Farmajo”.
Because of the ongoing civil conflict and a drought, Somalia is presently facing a devastating famine crisis.